10 Fantasy Baseball Players to Buy and Sell for Week 3
Well, we're two weeks in, which means we find ourselves nearing one of the most important parts of the fantasy baseball season. Are hot starts legitimate signs of breakout seasons? Are cold starts just a result of a small sample size, or are they warning signs?
For the most part, it's too early to overreact. Most MLB teams have only played 11 or 12 games at this point, which is less than 10% of the regular season. However, you will find several owners ready to push the panic button already.
Perhaps you're one of these owners -- it happens to the best of us. If you're not sure whether you should hold or fold on a player, that's why we're here.
The following 10 players have seen a perceived change in their fantasy stock, and we'll attempt to decipher which ones warrant taking action this early. Some may seem premature, but that is the goal -- to be ahead of the rest of your league.
Sell Ervin Santana
First among pitchers on ESPN's player rater through two weeks? That's right -- Ervin Santana. The career 4.06 ERA pitcher has opened the year with an unblemished 3-0 record, along with a 0.41 ERA and 0.45 WHIP. Santana is coming off a complete game one-hit shutout and has now allowed a total of five hits in 22 innings. It's safe to say that regression is coming.
That's not to say Santana isn't going to have another quality year (his 3.38 ERA last year was the second-best of his 13-year career), but rather that his current pace is completely unsustainable. A look at his underlying numbers suggests he is pitching a lot closer to last year's form than the Cy Young level his base stats would suggest.
His current 3.78 xFIP would be the fourth-best total of his career and isn't a huge improvement over his career 4.17 mark. So, how can his 0.45 ERA be explained? Well, for the most part, it appears Santana has been extraordinarily lucky through his first three starts. Opponents have posted a league-worst 0.74 BABIP against him, and he is one of just six pitchers to have a 100% strand rate thus far.
He's not missing more bats, either -- he's striking out 6.14 hitters per nine innings so far, which is actually below his career 7.19 mark. A look at his opponent's plate discipline profile, courtesy of FanGraphs, further backs up the idea that not much has actually changed for him this season.
As you can see, he is inducing swings (Swing%), swings outside the zone (O-Swing%), and swinging strikes (SwStr%) at a slightly improved rate, while also slightly limiting opponents' contact (Contact%) more effectively than last year. The improvements are not nearly as drastic as his ERA would suggest, though. If you can get an owner in your league to buy into his early success, sell high!
Buy Kyle Seager
Coming in 34th among third baseman on the player rater is Kyle Seager, who was an early- to mid-round pick for most following last year's career season. Needless to say, fantasy owners are frustrated with the early returns on their investment.
The table below displays Seager's wOBA, ISO, and slugging percentage over the past three seasons, comparing his April numbers to the numbers he posted over the rest of the season. As you can see, he is no stranger to slow starts.
|Rest of Season||.338||.191||.458|
|Rest of Season||.376||.221||.518|
Seager is still seeing the ball well -- swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone (25.2%) than he has in his career and posting contact (80.5%) and whiff (7.2%) rates right in line with his career averages. He's also being far more selective, only swinging at 38.6% of pitches and posting a 14.8% walk rate. He appears poised to build off last season's career-high 10% walk rate.
If you're a Seager owner, be patient. He is coming off a career-best hard-hit rate and has improved his home run total in five straight seasons. If you don't own Seager, check with his owner and see if you can buy low after his slow start.
Buy Aaron Nola
Aaron Nola has been good so far, but that isn't enough to erase the memory of him floundering to the tune of a 9.82 ERA over his final eight starts last year. It's worth noting that he was dealing with elbow issues during that time, though, so the pitcher we have seen thus far might be much closer to the version we saw post a 2.65 ERA and 9.81 strikeouts per nine (K/9) over his first 12 starts last season.
Nola's 1.99 xFIP indicates he has actually pitched much better than his 3.27 ERA indicates, while his league-high .433 BABIP against backs up that he may have run into a bit of bad luck to start the season. He has also been filthy thus far, posting a 28.9% strikeout rate and 14.0% swinging strike rate that both rank in the top 15 among starting pitchers.
He has also seen an increase in velocity across the board after seeing a steady decline throughout last year, which is just further reason to believe he is as healthy as we have seen him in the majors.
It is a small sample size, and the injury concerns aren't completely gone, so be sure to temper expectations somewhat. However, there is a decent chance Nola is ready to take the next step we thought he was poised for last year. If his owner is still judging him based on the numbers he posted over the last year's second half, be sure to take advantage!
Sell Chris Davis
At this point, we know what Chris Davis is. He is one of the league's premier, albeit streaky, power sources. He is going to come near the league lead for strikeouts every season and is going to tank your team in the batting average department. He's very good at what he does -- with 38-plus homers in each of his past three full seasons, but he is what he is. Heading into week 3, Davis boasts a .324 batting average, along with a mammoth .324 ISO and .649 slugging percentage. That, my friends, is not what he is.
The power isn't out of place. We've seen the notoriously streaky power hitter go on binges like this before. What really seems out of place is the .324 batting average, which is bloated by the league's third-highest BABIP (.455). Considering he has posted a BABIP above .280 in just one of the past three seasons, it is fair to assume that mark will not continue.
What may continue, though, is Davis' troubling 34.8% strikeout rate that would rank first in the league if it weren't for the fact that the Minnesota Twins continue to allow select season ticket holders to don the number 25 jersey and bat ninth for them.
If this hot streak occurred in the middle of the season, few would take notice. However, since all we have to examine is a two-week sample size, some may buy into the idea that Davis has returned to the elite tier of first baseman. If you can find an owner of such variety in your league, sell Davis while he's still hot.
Buy Vince Velasquez
After watching elite prospect Vincent Velasquez post a 2.42 ERA and 10.99 K/9 through his first eight starts in 2016, the fantasy community was ready to anoint him as the next big thing. Instead, he dealt with fatigue and bicep issues and finished with a 5.12 ERA through his final 16 starts. Despite his injury issues, Velasquez finished inside the top 10 in strikeout rate for the season.
So, after opening 2017 with a league-best K/9 of 17.0, how can we possibly expect to buy low on Velasquez?
Well, while the strikeouts have been incredible, they do not tell his whole story -- he hasn't made it out of the fifth inning of either of his starts. He has appeared just as fooled by where his pitches are going to end up as the batters he's striking out.
The control issues are concerning, but his 9.00 ERA doesn't come close to representing how he has pitched, as evidenced by his 3.25 xFIP. He hasn't pitched enough innings to qualify, but if he had, his .438 BABIP against would be higher than any qualified starting pitcher.
The control issues and potential for injury can't simply be ignored, but Velasquez has elite level strikeout ability. If his owner is ready to give up on the youngster, be sure to throw him a low-ball offer.
Hold Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera currently boasts a .220 batting average, along with a 22.4% strikeout rate that would be his worst mark since his rookie season. With his 34th birthday coming up this Tuesday, many owners may be worried that Miggy is finally ready to fall out of the elite tier of first baseman.
Well, if it is any consolation, Cabrera accumulated a .340 wOBA and .472 slugging percentage last April before going on to put up a .399 wOBA and .563 slugging percentage for the year.
He also has posted a .240 BABIP this season, which is well below his career mark of .347. That number seems especially out of place when considering his 51.9% hard-hit rate, which would be a marked improvement over his fifth-ranked 41.1% mark from last year. He also ranks fifth in average exit velocity after ranking in the top six both of the past two seasons.
Quite simply, he is still hitting the crap out of the ball. It is only a matter of time until those balls start to find the holes and his batting average corrects itself. If you're a Cabrera owner, weather the storm -- his recent 6 for 16 stretch over his past four games suggest that it is almost over. If you're not, try to buy-low while you still can.
Hold Joey Votto
Only 16 players have been more unlucky than Joey Votto to start the year, who ranks 17th-worst with a .175 BABIP. That makes the career .311 hitter's .178 batting average a lot easier to understand. Votto has been a bit of a career slow starter, as evidenced by his splits, courtesy of Baseball Reference. His career batting average and slugging percentage during April and March are lower than any other month.
Votto isn't hitting the ball quite as hard as Miggy, but his career track record warrants just as much patience. You invested an early-round pick in the slugger, so don't let a two-week sample size of poor play cause you to sell him for less than he's worth.
Sell Dallas Keuchel
The 2015 AL Cy Young winner posted largely disappointing numbers last year while pitching through shoulder pain. As a result, he resorted to abandoning his changeup, which was one of the more effective pitches during his Cy Young campaign. This season, Keuchel has returned the changeup to his arsenal and has looked very much the part of the 2015 ace we saw -- posting a 0.86 ERA and 0.62 WHIP through his first three starts.
There are your talking points for your sell-high pitch. Feel free to copy/paste it and text it to prospective trade partners.
While it feels good to simplify it and say the shoulder issues were the only thing that kept Dallas Keuchel from retaining his 2015 form, the reality is it would take another set of very fortunate circumstances for the lefty to recreate the magic.
His .269 BABIP against that season ranked in the bottom 10 and was far below his career average of .293. He posted a top-10 strand rate (79.4%) that was a big improvement over his career 72.8% mark. He threw the second-fewest pitches in the zone, only hitting the mark 37.6% of the time, yet he was able to post one of the top 20 walks per nine inning rates (1.98). He also was one of just two pitchers to reach the 20-win mark.
That's not to say his 2015 was a fluke, but rather it's going to be very hard to repeat. Furthermore, his 3.20 xFIP is much more in line with his career 3.20 mark than the 2.75 he posted in 2015. His .113 BABIP against is clearly an aberration and is second only to Santana's, while he also has a 100% strand rate. His 6.43 K/9 would be the lowest mark he has posted in the last five years.
Keuchel certainly looks on track to bounce back from last season's 4.55 ERA. If you can find someone who thinks he is going to come close to his 2015 numbers, though, sell him before his underlying numbers come to fruition.
Buy Mike Moustakas
Mike Moustakas appeared poised for a major breakout last season through his first 27 games before an ACL injury prematurely ended his campaign. He had made huge improvements at the plate, hitting lefties better, beating the shift, and being far more selective with his swing.
Moustakas' breakout appeared to begin on August 20th, 2015 -- in 77 games since that point, he has posted a .400 wOBA, .601 slugging percentage, and 38.3% hard-hit rate, along with a 162-game pace of 48 homers, 91 runs, and 120 RBI.
Now, obviously, there is some selective sample sizing there, taking the best of his 2015 season and hot starts from the past two years. Those numbers probably will thin out a bit over a full season, but it goes to show just how dangerous Moose can be at the dish.
It seems out of the ordinary to buy high on a player, but given his average draft position as the 16th third baseman in ESPN leagues, it is clear that the collective fantasy community doesn't give Moose the respect he deserves. Buy him now, while people still assume his hot start is a fluke.
Hold Kenta Maeda
Kenta Maeda has followed up his impressive 2016 campaign with a horrendous start, posting a 7.07 ERA and not making it out of the fifth inning in any of his three starts. However, almost everything is in line with his 2016 numbers. His xFIP is 0.20 higher than last season's, his K/9 is down by 0.16 and his BB/9 is up by 0.01. The only real difference is that his strand rate is down from 75.6% to 54.1% to start the year.
He's also inducing swings and misses at a higher rate than last year, while hitters have posted a lower contact rate against him. It is only a matter of time until his numbers normalize and he begins to resemble the dominant pitcher we saw when he was a rookie.
If you were beginning to worry that major league hitters had figured out Maeda after his first year in the league, don't. It appears he has just been a victim of bad luck and a small sample size. He should turn things around sooner rather than later.